WomanSpirit Tree of Life: Watercolor Art

I have always loved Tree of Life images. They remind us of our rootedness, our connectedness, our potential for flourishing growth. This Tree of Life watercolor features a woman as the giver of life. She is strong and steady, with arms ourstretched, and she stands as the symbol of a foundation at the center of life.

On her chest is an amulet called the “Mati” or the evil eye. The evil eye amulet originated in Greece where it was known as an “apotropaic” amulet, meaning that it reflected harm and thus protected the wearer.

The most powerful symbol in the painting is the WomanSpirit, a symbol of wisdom, strength and life-giving power.

To order an 8″ by 10″ print of this and other watercolor pieces, visit the link below. You will see a variety of watercolors such as:

Enchanted Forest

Holy Ghosts

Ugandan Washday at the River

Circle of Friends

Well-Behaved Women

Circle of Women

Dance!

The Hummingbird

East African Sunset

Bird in Stillness

Gentle Forest

Plains of Africa

Ugandan Crested Cranes

Masai Mara

Branches

Whimsy

Flight

The Gentle Forest

https://kalliopeswatercolors.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/watercolor-prints/

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The Very Real, Bona Fide Gnat Line

2F5D03EA-A564-4F67-B04E-E43DC632DAD0NEVER! You hear me? NEVER . . . Never would I have moved to Macon, Georgia four years ago if someone had bothered to tell me the place sits smack dab on top of the Gnat Line! I had a perfectly good home in Little Rock, Arkansas, a lovely home that I enjoyed for 35 years. And I had a beautiful patio garden with many plants, trees, flowers and shrubs. And NO gnats!

You think I’m exaggerating. Or maybe spinning a tale for a few laughs.

No!. I’m dead serious about the Gnat Line! This is a genuine map that shows it with a red line of dashes.

457C3485-CDAA-464D-8AF8-1ECD27E37F70I, for one, do not need a map to tell me that the infamous Gnat Line goes directly through Macon, Georgia. The line probably goes through my street! I have empirical evidence. Gnats go after me with a vengeance, lighting all over my arms, relentlessly buzzing my ears, and worse, dive-bombing into my eyes, nose and, if I don’t keep it tightly closed, my mouth. It is not a good experience.

I have applied to my skin and clothing Off, Skin-So-Soft, Deep Woods Off, Sawyer, Cutter, Repel, No-Gnatz, Natrapel, stuff with DEET, stuff without DEET, picaridin, permethrin, and a variety of highly touted plant oils.

To no avail! The Gnats are not deterred. So I designed a stylish gnat hat, thoroughly ridiculous looking, but effective. The problem is the neighbors, the sweet neighbors who try so hard not to gossip about anyone in the neighborhood. But how can they help themselves when a crazy lady with a very strange hat is working in her flower beds, still swatting gnats off both arms. The gnat hat is definitely not my finest fashion statement.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so in lieu of giving you an even wordier description, here is a photo of my gnat hat:11DA5962-66B9-4272-94E8-CAB35D42986F

If you are still skeptical about the location of the bone fide Gnat Line, let me tell you. Those of us who have spent time outdoors in Georgia know precisely where the Gnat Line is exactly 1-6 inches directly IN FRONT OF OUR FACE and probably in our nose!

But to be fair to Georgia . . . Head to the beautiful North Georgia mountains and you will not find a single gnat. And for, now, we’re safe. They’re not here quite yet.

May they get lost on their evil migration and head further north, completely out of our state. That’s my sincere hope regarding gnats!

Through the Fire

892264FE-E803-4E0E-B598-C7503D77F674Sometimes life hurts.
We suffer. We heal. We move on.
But sometimes life hits back. Harder.
Lethal in its cruelty.
Shattering us into a million glittering shards
of pain and loss and anguish.
And we suffer, too broken to heal,
to become what we once were.
— L.R Knost

How deeply I know that feeling of brokenness. I am personally acquainted — well acquainted — with the lethal cruelty that life can present. To heal the past requires that I pay close attention to the spiritual and emotional places within me in the present, to make sure I am healthy and whole right now. Only then will I find the strength to invite the pain of the past into my psyche so that I can face off against it.

I have learned through the years that it is not a good option to leave past pain where it is, to let it occupy the place within me it has claimed. This writing by L.R Knost is one of the best descriptions I have ever seen on healing from past pain.

Healing is not a straight and narrow road
that leads from darkness to light.
There’s no sudden epiphany to take
us from despair to serenity, no orchestrated
steps to move us from hurting to healed.
Healing is a winding mountain road with steep
climbs and sudden descents, breathtaking views
and breath-stealing drop-offs, dark tunnels
and blinding exposures, dead ends and
endless backtracks, rest stops and break downs,
sheer rock walls and panoramic vistas.
Healing is a journey with no destination,
because healing is the journey of every lifetime.

Indeed, “healing is the journey of every lifetime.” The reality is that the only way to heal from the pain of the past is to walk directly through the center of that pain in the present. Does it feel safer to just let the pain continue to smolder in the dark parts of myself? Of course it feels safer. It feels terrifying, in fact, downright terrifying.

But the dark places in me will never heal spontaneously. I have to conquer the fear and open up to the possibility that God’s Spirit can breathe life back into those embers of pain snd rekindle the fires of unhealed hurts. So as I sit cautiously at the very edge of the fires of past pain, I cannot help but recall the comforting words of the prophet Isaiah.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

— Isaiah 43:2 New International Version (NIV)

And so many times, I have found deep comfort in singing the beloved hymn, How Firm a Foundation.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
 My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
 The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
 Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.*

Text: Attr. to Robert Keen, ca. 1787.
Music: Attr. to J. Ellis, ca. 1889

So the flames aren’t there to burn me. The flames are there to light my way through pain to healing. At times, I have approached those flames with courage and confidence. But at other times, I met the flames with terror.

Courage or terror — it didn’t matter really. I just walked through it just as I was, and as I did, the hurt transformed into hope. I had wounds, for sure, and lasting scars. But the scars tell a story of the battles I won and the battles I lost, and most importantly, the scars tell the story of a human who survived. So, in spite of fiery places of past pain, we learn to live as L.R. Knost says

. . . with the shards of pain and loss and anguish forever embedded in our souls,

and with shaking fingers we piece together the bloody fragments of who we were into a mosaic grotesque in its stark reality,

yet exquisite in its sharp-edged story of the tragic, breathless beauty of a human who survived life.

And we move on, often unaware of the light glittering behind us
showing others the way through the darkness.

This is a resilience we can be thankful for, a perseverance we can cherish, a strength straight from a present and faithful God that will ever — forever — sustain us. Amen.

 

* Hear the entire hymn, How Firm a Foundation, at this link:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=G0S62se1hAE

Faith and Illness: A Solid Rock in Desert Days

 

4EB74B81-616C-4A67-A002-B1F4AAF1EE47This piece was first published on the blog at revgalblogpals.org. Thanks to that wonderful group for publishing this article and for all their thoughtful and informative publications.

 

As I reflect on faith and illness, I recall the words of an old hymn, “My anchor holds and grips the solid rock.” Remembering the hymn’s message gives me hope in myself and in my faith. Still, these are empty days for me, and I ask myself these questions:

What is it about faith that raises me up when I have fallen face-first into the dirt?

What is it that gives me the strength to get up, dust myself off, and continue this faith journey?

What is it that assures me that my faith still holds “and grips the solid rock?”

My thirty-four year ministry journey was life-giving, until 2014, the year I endured a drastic life interruption. A serious illness threw me into a year of multiple hospitalizations and several brushes with death. Suddenly, I was plunged into what I can only describe as desert days. The diagnosis?

End-stage renal disease

It sounded awful to me, “end-stage.” Its meaning is simple: the final stage of kidney disease when your kidneys have failed and you cannot survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Those desert days included most of the things I had always dreaded about hospitalization — near-fatal infections, endless blood draws, collapsed veins, mental confusion, physical weakness, long and sleepless nights, and debilitating fear.

In time, I found my way back to my new normal after months of therapy where I struggled to regain the ability to accomplish the simple tasks of daily living. My patient physical therapists trained me to walk again, write again, learn the alphabet, re-learn colors, place blocks in holes, and recite the name of the president of the United States. Way down on the priority list was the slim possibility of moving myself back into ministry. In those days, it was a victory just to be able to sign my name and walk a few steps unaided.

I have now settled into a different life. My days include eight hours of dialysis every day, waiting on an lengthy list for a kidney transplant, working hard in physical therapy, and trying to find myself again. Desert days they are, and at times, I wonder if my faith is still gripping that solid rock.

Like so many ministers, I found my identity in mission and ministry. To be honest, not having a “ministry identity” has left me feeling discarded. My mind tells me that I am more than my ministry, but my heart tells me I am an empty shell.

And then there is what my faith tells me: that I am grateful to be alive, that I am thankful that I feel strong, that God has a purpose for this life interruption, and that ministry really is more than a defined vocation and a specific place of service. Yes, there is an enormously empty place in me, there is.a soul that is longing and a heart that is searching for life beyond this current desert. All the while, reality tells me that my years of ministry are over and that I must learn how to “be” within that reality.

So while I still mourn the loss of my ministry, I am learning how to attend a church service without grieving. I am learning that my writing, blogging and painting is my offering to God. I am learning that I must find contemplative, holy moments to feed my thirsting spirit. I am learning that stillness might be more sacred than activity.

Faith and illness? It is a relentless challenge. There is no doubt about it: illness can be a rude interruptor of life. While I am in the center of that life interruption, watching intently while faith and illness fight a battle for my soul, I have choices.

One choice is burying my emotions and moving unmindfully through each day, without expectations, without dreams, simply going through the motions. My wiser choice is to look squarely into my soul, honestly admitting that these truly are desert days.

To make the wiser choice is to mourn the fact that some of my dreams have died, to own my angst and face off with my losses. This choice does not mean walking around the desert. Rather it means walking directly through it, hoping for manna, for perseverance, for grace.

So as I make my way through this desert, I can say this: it is not easy. It is uncomfortable and frightening. It is a journey that reminds me how fragile hope can be, a journey that tests my faith and my faithfulness. And yet, on this desert journey I have rediscovered that my faith “still holds and grips the solid rock.”

Thanks be to God!

Dear Students Marching for Our Lives,

5C1D4656-F263-49DD-8CC3-44E1AA6A3695Let us pray with our legs, let us march in unison to the rhythm of justice, because I say enough is enough.”

— A Parkland shooting survivor.

Dear students,

Yesterday you sat in classrooms all over this country. Today you are marching all over this country, all over the world. Teachers, parents and other supportive adults are marching with you. We older folk marvel at your commitment and your resolve. We are proud of you. We cheer you on and pray that your efforts will bring positive change.

You are marching to demand that your lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools. You are relentless and persistent in your quest to end gun violence. You are standing tall, lifting your voices to proclaim “Enough is enough!”

Every day, 96 Americans are killed with guns. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children between six and seven years old were killed by a gunman, 7,000 children age 17 and under have been killed by guns.

Today, thousands of you have gathered to call violence by its true name. You are calling out the adults. You are confronting the NRA. You are challenging all who put their own self interest above the safety of our children,You are marching today for those who died and those who live. You are marching for the children who will be in classrooms in years to come, little ones who still have the joy of innocence. You are marching for their lives. You are marching for them. You are marching for all of us, and we thank you. Our hearts are with you,

For each of you, I offer this prayer.

God who holds ouryoung in your arms of grace,

Make of us a people who hold our children in the highest esteem, who give them respect and encouragement, who take their fears seriously, who commit ourselves to their safety and protection.

Protect them, God, as they march for their lives today.

Help them to know that their resilience and persistence might just change the world.

Make every city where they march a welcoming place, filled with people that open their hearts to the message our children speak.

Assure our children of the love that surrounds them and of the support that enfolds them. Assure them of our love and respect for them.

Continue to embolden them to demand change.

Infuse them with the courage to stand and the strength to speak truth to power.

Grant them an extra measure of perseverance.

Guide their steps. Ennoble their conviction.

Calm their fears and soothe their anxious hearts.

And may their reward be a world free of violence, communities infused with peace, classrooms that surround them with understanding, acceptance, protection and learning.

For your deep love for our children, O God, we give you thanks.

For your compassion toward our young who have been so deeply harmed, we give you thanks.

For your comforting presence with friends and families who have lost people they love, we give you thanks.

For your tears mingled with our own as we mourn the loss of innocence our children have experienced, we give you thanks.

For your abiding protection and mercy in our violent and frightening world, O God, we give you thanks.  Amen.

*****

Fast Facts

  • Organizers of March for Our Lives expect millions of people to participate in today’s marches.
  • Acting out of their profound grief, students from across the country are fearless, empowered and motivated to speak out today as part of the March for Our Lives movement that was born out of the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 students and staff members.
  • President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama sent a handwritten letter to the students of Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School commending them for their “resilience, resolve and solidarity in helping awaken the conscience of a nation.”
  • Today, there are marches in over 800 sites across the country where students are still “calling BS.”
  • Marches are also taking place all over the world.
  • Florida students have planned a voter registration effort as a part of the march in Washington, DC.
  • The message of these students is “never again,”

 

Even There!

D2954ADE-75B4-4134-8B99-77B434376264Today, my pastor reminded me of a cherished truth, that we are not just loved by God, we are also known by God. Today’s scripture, Psalm 139, is indeed a precious gift. The Psalmist assures us that God knows when we sit down, when we lie down, and when we rise up.

The Psalmist declares that God knows our every thought. God knows our path. God knows our ways and the words we will speak, even before we speak them. The miracle? God truly and thoroughly knows us — every flaw, every bad habit, every unkind action. And God loves us anyway.

But for me, even more comforting than that grace-filled promise, is the truth beginning in verse seven, that God is with me when I feel alone. In the past few weeks, in fact, I have felt very much alone, far away from my child and grandchildren, far away from close friends, living in a new place that does not yet feel like home.

I am blessed with a loving husband of 48 years, my very best friend. We enjoy each other. We love being together day in and day out. We live in a lovely place in a pleasant neighborhood. But we are not really home.

So from the place I find myself these days, I find great comfort in hearing the Psalmist speaking, maybe even singing, about God’s abiding presence. In this part of the Psalm, one of the most meaningful scripture passages of my faith journey, I find the promise of God’s presence with me. The message calms my soul and consoles my heart.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there shall Your hand lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.

— Psalm 139:7-9 (NKJV)

Wherever I go, even there God’s Spirit is with me. Wherever I am, even there God is with me. Even there!

Thanks be to God for the gift of presence.

On Loneliness

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Photo of an Arkansas dawn by Steven Nawojczyk

I have always hated feeling lonely. Being alone meant sorrow for me, and in my younger years, I did everything I could to avoid spending time alone, trying to keep loneliness at bay. The more people I could have around me, the more alive I felt.

And then I began to experience the deep loneliness one can experience even when surrounded with people. That is to me the most painful loneliness of all — being lonely in a crowd, suddenly coming face to face with my emptiness, discovering that no one is ever truly present with me.

Growing older has taught me that being alone is actually life-giving. Sometimes being alone brings the kind of silence we need to draw closer to God, hearing the sacred whispers that reach the depths of the soul. Silence can bring a more intense awareness of the bursting life all around us, the rise and fall of the cicada’s song in the summer, the sweet music of birdsong, the delightful sound of fluttering hummingbird wings, the silence of the night broken only by the sounds of katydids and crickets.

I recently read these words from the children’s fantasy novel, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.

― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

It truly is beautiful . . . being alone with silence complete enough to listen and to truly hear. It is one thing to be alone, but quite another to be alone with God. Being alone with God is being in the silent, sacred place where the soul meets its creator. It is finding the quiet, holy place of falling into the arms of a God who abides and protects. It is coming near to the “mercy seat” where disconsolate seekers bring their wounded hearts. It is sitting in the place where we learn that “earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” *

I have learned, even in my loneliest times, that there is abiding truth in the words of philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich.

Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone; solitude expresses the glory of being alone.

Being alone taught me that, even when not one human soul is around me, I am never truly alone. And I rest my hope in these words, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”

Amen and amen.

 

“Come, Ye Disconsolate,” Lyrics: Thomas Moore (1779-1852); Altered by Thomas Hastings (1784-1872); Music: Samuel Webbe (1740-1816)

Please enjoy this beautiful hymn presented by the Baylor University Men’s A Cappella Choir at this link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mNqzhfB4y1I

Aren’t you tired of being mean?

IMG_5860August 27, 2017, marked an action of sacred change among the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. I was proud of the church I have recently become a part of, not only because of our adoption of a policy that ensures the full acceptance of LGBTQ parsons, but also because of the thoughtful and intentional process that resulted in the decision for inclusion, acceptance, unity, justice and love.

The church leadership spent a great deal of time and energy in a discerning process that led to this recommendation:

“The Church Council and Board of Deacons of the First Baptist Church of Christ support the full inclusion in the life of the church of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. In light of this statement, the Church Council and Board of Deacons recommend thar full inclusion encompasses same-sex marriage in our church facilities.”

The leadership then planned a series of congregational meetings so that every member felt respected and heard. I was present at two of three community meetings that included review of Scripture, open dialogue, listening to one another, respecting diverse views, eating together, singing and praying. Following those meetings, the motion was brought to the church in business conference. The motion passed with 73% of the congregation voting to approve. An amazing phenomenon for a Georgia Baptist church!

I could not help but think that this result was much more than a single vote. It was inclusion and acceptance. It was a proclamation of justice and unity among people of faith. It was a community of God’s people seeking to live out Christ’s commandment to love one another.

This week I read about the creation of a newly penned doctrinal statement in which a coalition of conservative evangelical leaders laid out their beliefs on human sexuality, including opposition to same-sex marriage and fluid gender identity.

The signers of the Nashville Statement say that it is their response to an “increasingly post-Christian, Western culture that thinks it can change God’s design for humans.” Since it was released Tuesday morning, the Nashville Statement has received praise for its clarity. It has also been denounced as very hurtful and harmful to LGBTQ people.

I read the Preamble and pondered each of the fourteen Articles of the statement. With sadness, I looked through the list of hundreds of signers, finding the names of leaders from all of our original Southern Baptist seminaries. I remembered the loss of our seminaries and the painful times that our beloved seminary professors endured. Most of all, I cringed at the statement’s language. I thought about my many LGBTQ friends and recalled their Christian faith. And I was very troubled, frightened by the many ways that hate can flourish in our world.

I then read an article in response to the Nashville Statement by my long time friend, Nancy Hastings Sehested, published in the latest edition of prayer and politiks.org. I can come up with no words that are as fully Christian as Nancy’s thoughts in this insightful article. I print it here in its entirety.

Tired of Being Mean: A Response to the “Nashville Statement”

It was the last night of Vacation Bible School at the Sweet Fellowship Baptist Church. All week our five year olds rehearsed the story of Pharaoh and Moses to dramatize for their parents. All four boys wanted to be mean ‘ole Pharaoh.

With the church pews filled with family, the performance commenced. Our wee Pharaoh sat on his throne holding his plastic sword. Then little Moses walked up to him with his shepherd’s crook and said, “Pharaoh, stop hurting my people. Let my people go.”

Our Pharaoh wielded his sword in the air and said, “Never, never, never!”

Moses walked away and then returned with the same words. “Pharaoh, stop hurting my people. Let my people go!”

Pharaoh said nothing. I thought he’d forgotten his lines. I scooted toward him and whispered, “Say ‘Never, Never, Never’.”

Nothing.

Then our little Pharaoh jumped down from his throne, threw down his sword and said, “I’m tired of being mean. I don’t want to be mean anymore!”

Imagine meanness in the world ending due to fatigue.

It seems that we are simply not tired enough. But surely we are close to exhaustion sorting out who needs our meanness now. Just flipping through the Bible to find which people to hate is draining. These days it’s hard to find a Midianite to kill. Stoning incorrigible teenagers to death in the town square could leave few maturing into adulthood. Abominating people who are “sowers of discord” or have “haughty eyes” could unleash a bloodbath in our churches.

Aren’t we worn out yet from using the Bible as a bully stick for meanness?

The “Nashville Statement” is a clear indication that some religious Pharaohs are not tired of wielding their sword of hatred. But the rest of us are tired of one more abusive word against gay, lesbian and transgendered people in the name of religion. Who’s next? Women ministers? Oh, wait. That’s a mean streak that started decades ago.

Signers of the statement, here is a word to you: Don’t you have something better to do? Feed the hungry? Visit the prisoners? Shelter the homeless from the hurricane? Give the thirsty some clean drinking water? Stop mad men from starting a nuclear war? If you are afraid of the world changing too fast or becoming too complex for you, then say, “I’m afraid.” Then be assured that God is with you in this changing world. But don’t use your own selective Bible verses to hurt beloved people of God. We’re tired of your meanness. God is too.


– Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested

Co-Pastor, Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, North Carolina

August 31, 2017

 

My final words for this day’s blog post are simple:

Amen.

Thank you, Nancy.

May God bless the extravagant love shown by Macon’s First Baptist Church of Christ.

And may we all grow tired of being mean!

Remembering Everything

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As a young child, I remember the very, very long Greek Orthodox liturgies of Holy Thursday. We called the day Great and Holy Thursday. Other faith traditions name it Maundy Thursday; others the Thursday of Mysteries. The worship service seemed endless to me, and it was about everything: the washing of the disciples’ feet, the Last Supper, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

On Great and Holy Thursday, light and darkness, joy and sorrow are strangely mixed in the light of the Upper Room and the darkness in Gethsemane. The light of the holy kingdom and the darkness of hell capture us simultaneously. The way of life and the way of death converge on this one Holy day.

It is a portrayal of our very lives, for on our journey through life we meet up with both life and death. We cannot avoid either, though we cling ever so tightly to life and fight with all our might to conquer death.

Here in the remembrances of this day, Jesus shared a sacred meal with his disciples, washed their feet in an act of love, experienced the harsh agony of Gethsemane and endured the pain of betrayal by one of his own. Yes, Great and Holy Thursday is about everything.

The Epistle to the Hebrews wraps up the Gospel in a sacred package that is God’s Final Word in His Son.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.

When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

– Hebrews 1:1-3 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

What an act of worship it is when we remember everything — the central events of the final week of Jesus’s life — on Great and Holy Thursday.